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UI study shows older workers with disabilities at higher risk of
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Older workers with disabilities are 58 percent more
likely to get hurt on the job than their counterparts without disabilities,
according to a University of Iowa College of Medicine study.
The findings, included in the November issue of the American Journal
of Public Health, suggest that employers should take steps to accommodate
older individuals with impairments to prevent occupational injuries.
"Our workplaces are designed for young, healthy workers,"
said Craig Zwerling, M.D., the study's principal investigator and a UI
professor of preventive medicine and environmental health. "I would
not expect the risk to change unless we improve the accommodations."
Zwerling, who directs the UI Injury Prevention Research Center, said
that the need to provide additional safety measures for older workers with
disabilities will become even more important as this group likely will
increase in number in the near future.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 1988 Current Population Survey indicated
that 6.9 percent of workers aged 55 to 64 had some sort of disability that
limited their work in some way. However, the survey predated the 1991 Americans
with Disabilities Act requiring employers with 15 or more employees to
make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities to participate
in the workforce. In addition, the survey results do not reflect the large
group of baby boomers that soon will begin entering the 55 to 64 age bracket.
From 1994 to 2005, the number of working men age 55 to 64 should increase
43 percent, while the number of working women in that same age bracket
will jump 63 percent.
Zwerling and his colleagues' look at older workers with disabilities
follows their earlier study dealing with employees in general who had disabilities.
Last year, the group found that, as a whole, employees with disabilities
had a 36 percent greater risk of workplace injury.
Zwerling said there has been no extensive look at what progress employers
are making in the area of accommodations. That issue is one Zwerling himself
would like to investigate.
"There are a lot of questions still to be answered," he said.
Zwerling and his colleagues' most recent findings are based on responses
from 5,600 individuals, age 51 to 61, included in a nationwide Health and
Retirement Study based at the Institute for Social Research, University
of Michigan. Between 1992 and 1994, the researchers contacted each of the
participants twice. The investigators wanted to find out what, if any,
work-related injuries the individuals experienced between their first interview
and follow-up interviews.
As to which occupations posed the greatest risks for injury, the study
found that mechanics and repairers, operators and assemblers, and laborers
topped the list.